Maldives opposition protest over vote cancellation

Protests in Male, Maldives (19 Oct 2013)

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Opposition supporters in the Maldives have staged protests after police intervened to stop the presidential election from taking place.

Police prevented ballot papers from being sent out on Saturday, saying two of the three candidates had failed to approve the registry of voters.

The elections commission has accused the police of exceeding their mandate

The Maldives has been in turmoil since ex-President Mohamed Nasheed was ousted in disputed circumstances in 2012.

The first round of the election, held earlier this month, was won by Mr Nasheed, the Maldives' first democratically elected president.

But that result was annulled and the second round of voting postponed amid allegations of electoral fraud, although international monitors said the process had been free and fair.

Mr Nasheed has been leading the peaceful protests in the capital, Male. His supporters blocked a main road, drinking tea and eating snacks in a display of civil disobedience.

Protesters spread out banners calling for the election to take place immediately and asking, "where is my vote".

Neighbours in the region have called the move an "attempt to stall the democratic process"

The current president, Mohamed Waheed Hassan - who had already pulled out of the leadership race after performing badly in the annulled first round - has proposed that the re-run be held on 26 October.

"I hope that over that week, any outstanding problems will be ironed out," he told the Associated Press, saying he wanted to ensure a new president was installed before the end of his term on 11 November.

'Threat to democracy'

The two remaining presidential candidates - Gasim Ibrahim and Abdulla Yameen - have been fighting for the re-run not to take place. Late on Friday, they sought an injunction against the election at the Supreme Court.

They complained that they had not had time to endorse the registry of voters - a newly introduced requirement.

The court did not issue an injunction but nor did it give a clear instruction for the election to go ahead.

On Saturday, electoral commission head Fuwad Thowfeek said police had entered his offices and were stopping officials distributing election materials.

Mohamed Nasheed in Male, 18 October 2013 Mohamed Nasheed was first elected president in 2008

Police spokesman Abdulla Nawaz said the election was stopped because the commission did not comply with a court order to have the voters' list endorsed by all candidates.

But Mr Thowfeek accused them of exceeding their mandate.

"We are very much concerned about what is going on in this country. The Supreme Court decision does not ask police officers to look into the voters' list and check what is there," he told reporters.

The cancellation caused alarm among the country's international partners.

India's foreign ministry said it was "seriously concerned at attempts to stall the democratic process", while a US embassy official in Sri Lanka said the delay "represents a real threat to democracy in Maldives".

UK Foreign Secretary William Hague said he was "deeply dismayed" and called for the democratic process in the Maldives to be allowed to proceed.

Commonwealth observers in the country also issued an angry statement denying suggestions by the police that they had sought Commonwealth advice before stopping the election.

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